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A former news intern glances back on 40 years

FARGO, N.D.—William D. "Bill" Fleming of Eagan, Minn., is one of my role models in agricultural journalism, a career that has provided a number of them.

Fleming was the innovative editorial director of "BEEF" magazine in 1978 when I was an intern with a sister publication, The Farmer/Dakota Farmer in St. Paul, Minn. Forty years ago, Webb housed a stable of magazines, phone books and other publications then owned by the great Webb Publishing Co., in St. Paul. (Webb even published "Canoe" magazine, which was dear to my heart as a former outfitter staffer in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota.)

At age 21, I was living in Minneapolis, battling traffic to get to the Webb offices, on the bluff next to Shepard Road, overlooking the Mississippi River. The company was transitioning from "hot type" to cold type printing plates. (The linotype union members were actually making galleys of lead type that were never used.)

Changing times

I was transforming too. An agricultural journalism student from South Dakota State University at Brookings, I was trying to see if I had any place in this career that involves technical production knowledge — at least curiosity.

The Farmer had a cast of impressive professionals: Bob Rupp, editor, a Battle of the Bulge veteran, thinking big thoughts; Tom Doty, managing editor, serious, with a dry sense of humor; Neil Tietz, dairy and forage editor, the Wisconsin dairy farmer; Bruce Pankonin, beef and corn editor; Jim Dickrell, hog and soybean editor. These staffers were all patient and polite with a young intern who had grown up in the "city" of Brookings, S.D., and must not have known much.

After a few weeks, Doty allowed me to go on a road trip to the Red River Valley and eventually Roseau, Minn., to write about bluegrass seed production. I was as awed by the broad expanses of the "valley" as any mountain I'd seen.

Bob Moraczcewski was the editor of another Webb magazine, Farm Industry News. A former editor at The Farmer, Moraczeweski every few months would give a critique of The Farmer. Moraczewski offered his comments directly, amidst positive pats. He knew criticism is vital, but livable when served up with affection and camaraderie.

Down the hall from The Farmer digs were the BEEF offices.

Fleming, a product of Iowa State University, had been a farm director for a radio station in Iowa before he came to Webb. He was there for 28 years and retired in 1993, then as editor of National Hog Farmer. One time, I saw Bill with his feet up on his desk, and flanked by framed photos that he'd taken himself. He produced arresting pictures, often strikingly published in black-and-white, illustrating his own work.

Having a ball

At a time when the company would pay professional photographers for cover photos, Fleming seemed to have a ball doing it all himself.

I would get my first full-time work for the Worthington (Minn.) Daily Globe in 1979, which had nationally-important photographers (several of which went on to contract work for National Geographic). I watched their every move to try to improve my comparatively elementary photo skills.

I went on to The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in 1983. I often shot my own farm assignments. I went on to Agweek magazine in 2000, and shot some more. In 2015, I have become a backpack journalist, a videographer/reporter for print and the AgweekTV show.

I like to think my own transition into today's diverse media and its emphasis on pictures and video was smoothed because I was exposed to these innovators and artists. Now nearly age 62, it makes me shake my head to think most of them were much younger than I am today.